Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Three sisters

That was the name certain native American peoples gave to companion plantings of beans, squash and sweetcorn. I'm not sure if it was those of South, Central or North, but I understand the combination was used by agrarian cultures all over the Americas.  I've been meaning to set up a bed of them for a while, because I'm curious, I like all three of those vegetables, I'm keen to maximise the space in raised beds, and when I learned they were called the Three Sisters it appealed to me especially as I am one of three sisters myself, though I can't make up my mind which of the three I'd like to be and which most resemble my two sisters.

The virtue of the combination is that the sweetcorn supports the beans, which in turn enrich the soil with nitrogen for the benefit of the corn.  While those two are reaching for the sky, the squash plants use the ground below, and their leaves and vines spread and keep down the weeds and keep it cool and moist.

It's worked to a point, but in fact I overcrowded the bed rather too much; when it looked like this

in June, after the rabbits had nibbled the tops off the sweetcorn, I couldn't believe that a couple of months later it would look like this:

I don't know how many years of observing the actions of nature it will take me fully to grasp the reality of them.

However, it will yield something, and the evening and sometimes morning plod down there bearing watering cans - the hose doesn't reach - is satisfying more than onerous.  I planted Kelvedon sweetcorn, green courgettes ( aka zucchini, I forget which variety), a special kind of butternut squash called 'Sprinter' which is supposed to be better suited to northern climes than the regular one, and pea beans, a flat French-type bean which you allow to dry in the pods to harvest the little round skewbald seeds for winter soups and stews, all from the organic gardening catalogue.  The germination rate for the courgettes was rubbish, but three surviving plants still give us more courgettes than we can use, the Sprinters may not be exactly sprinting but they are growing at their own pace, unfortunately though they are covered in flower buds the vast majority of these are male and won't bear fruit, but their are a few small green gourds coming along. The sweetcorn is bringing forth cobs; they look a bit small but size isn't everything.  The beans seem to be doing their own thing quite happily.

But whatever, I'm enjoying the look of them, the different leaf shapes and splashes of flowering and the emblems of the fruit, so if the only significant harvest is photos, then so be it.


Ellena said...

Your pictures make these vegies look like a First.
I love sweet corn. It's corn roast season here in Québec.

the polish chick said...

photos delightful as usual. i am particularly taken with the last three - the light is so buttery!

Catalyst said...

Those three sisters seem to be doing well, in spite of (perhaps) some sibling rivalry.

christopher said...

This post, as ever, is quite satisfying. I learned something too. Beauty and useful knowledge. Yes!

Roderick Robinson said...

Je reste silencieux.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

What are those beautiful bright blue and red flowers at the back of the top photo? Are they the courgettes and beans? Magnifique!

Zhoen said...

Gardens seem to be such a crap shoot, speaking of manure. I can't seem to grow a legume, however I try.

Francesca said...

I love the way you have captured the rampaging nature of the climbing beans. Mine have gone mad this year, producing lots of twining stems and leaves, but not many beans!

Lucy said...

Thanks people.

Ellena - we love sweetcorn too, but French people don't, on the whole, or just don't really know it, or think it's only fit for animals. They'll eat a bit cold out of a tin with a tuna salad, but if you want it really fresh you have to grow your own!

PC - thanks dearie, I got out early to take them!

Bruce - yes, they do look a bit as if they're trying to strangle each other!

Christopher - thank you. I have heard these plantings referred to as Inca squares, but couldn't find any reference to that on-line.

RR - Sorry, can't hear you...

Natalie - the blue are hydrangeas, that I tend to want to call hortensias, not because I'm affecting Franglais but because I love the name Hortense, sounds like a statuesque Edwardian lady or some such! The red are not flowers but leaves of some shrub I can't remember the name of...

Zhoen - Indeed. I can't grow tomatoes, which you seem to do well with, they always seem to succumb to blight or just don't ripen. This year they might have been OK but we no longer bother to try.

Francesca - yes, they are wild, these have gone launching out into mid-air and in some places started climbing back up themselves! I like the idea of just leaving these till they're finished and eating them as dried beans, rather than having to race to catch them while they're tender. They do have quite a few pods on them, but how many will actually be useful I don't know.

Unknown said...

Tendrils seem to have an instinct animal rather than vegetable to seek out something to climb.

Lyse said...

Quand j'ouvre ton blog, il me faut du temps car je fais traduire.
Tu as un beau potager et comme c'est ingénieux de faire un mariage entre les plants . Le maïs servant de rames aux haricots.
J'ai des haricots a fleurs rouges et comestibles. Je t'en donnerais quelques graines ( j'en avais 2)
Je vois que tu vas devoir te mettre aux conserves .
Bon courage

Lucas said...

A delightful harvest as photogenic as it is succulent-looking, or are these the same? My favourite is the fourth one down in which a tendril seems to be levitating against the darker green background.

Anil P said...

Just looking at the pictures and imagining their setting is so cathartic, can only imagine how it must be to actually work to nurture them.

Three sisters, a nice name.